The Poetry of Mary K O'Melveny





by Mary K O'Melveny 


Before I fall asleep each night,

I stare up at my curvaceous ceiling,

darkened by age, pock-marked

by stone, spider webs, jagged roots.


Each “room” is bordered by rock slabs,

boulders, dirt mounds. My clay cook

pots sit behind me. To the right, my sleep

ledge is softened by keffiyehs, quilts.


I have swept one center section

almost flat. An aid worker found us

a wooden table with two crooked

shelves. My prayer rug is folded there.


In that corner to the left, a brass box

still holds my yellowed deed to this land.

Tanks have bulldozed my three homes.

Now my sheep graze overhead.


These crooked steps, long smoothed by water,

footfalls, wind downward from their pen.

That slim cord dangling above provides

just enough light to read Fadwa Tuqan.


Like me, most of my neighbors have burrowed

beneath West bank hillsides we once owned.

Above ground, apricots, almonds, olives

thrive, as they have since Ottoman times.


Jurists who know nothing of our narratives

have ruled that we must evacuate, as if

we were as nomadic as our grazing flocks.

They name us trespassers, transients.


The army says our villages are best

suited as live-fire training grounds.

No one wants neighbors who remember

every whisper of their past lives.


I still have the dented bronzed key

to our ancestral dwelling place.

In chilled night air, I am warmed

by memory’s refracted light. 


Author’s note: A recent ruling by Israel's Supreme Court will allow the military to clear a rural West Bank area known as Masafer Yatta for use as a live-fire military training ground. This will mean expulsion of 1,200 residents of thirteen Palestinian villages in the region, in violation of international law. Many say their families have lived in the region for generations and that some families have already been forced to move into caves, leaving their ancestral homes behind. This poem imagines a conversation with one of those villagers now living beneath the ground. 


Illegal Jewish settlers yesterday attacked Palestinians and prevented them from working on their land in Masafer Yatta, south of Hebron, in the southern Occupied West Bank. Fouad Al-Amour, coordinator of the Protection and Steadfastness Committees in Masafer Yatta, said in a press statement that a number of settlers attacked farmers from the Abu Qbeita family, preventing them from cultivating their land in El-Saifer area in Masafer Yatta, and destroyed the seeds prepared for cultivation. The settlers were protected by the Israeli occupation army, Al-Amour added. Masafer Yatta is a community of 12 Palestinian villages located in the city of Yatta south of Hebron. Its residents have been suffering from the threat of forced displacement for decades due to the establishment of scores of illegal settlements, outposts and military training zones by Israeli occupation forces. —Middle East Monitor, December 29, 2022


Published on NewVerse News January 2, 2023

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